On a tumultuous morning for the sport in England, Yorkshire County Cricket Club released a summary of the long-awaited report into institutional racism at the club within the same hour of the cancellation of England’s fifth Test against India due to concerns over positive COVID-19 cases in the tourists’ camp. On the matter of the Test match, Twitter accounts and journalists went to triumphalist war, some questionably depicting the longest format’s alleged assassination at the hands of the invasive IPL, others attaching cosmic consequences to a difference in a series scoreline.
As the report released by Yorkshire revealed the racial harassment suffered by Azeem Rafiq, the comments largely condemned its brevity, its defensiveness, and above all its alleged attempts at burying its contents under the rubble of the fallout from Old Trafford. Nasser Hussain, speaking on Sky Sports, felt that Rafiq “deserved his own day”, away from the media frenzy of a Test match, particularly one in the midst of such acrimony.
Despite the stricter timetabling protocols of public statements and press releases such as Friday morning’s, the timing was ill-advised. After a year in which this report has been so haphazardly delayed and sedately compiled and a summary thereof released in haste only after significant pressure from the Government and the ECB, Yorkshire could surely have made yet one more alteration to the investigation’s formerly flexible schedule.
The summary itself, upon reading, deserves its criticism. The Club continues to vividly lack accountability, this time through basic word choice. Why, in its third significant paragraph, would it highlight the allegations made by Rafiq which were not upheld, before those which were? It is irrelevant that “in excess of 40 allegations” fit the former category and seven the second.
If you are serious about change, you do not attempt to safeguard yourself with mitigating factors, but confront your shortcomings in an unreserved fashion. The “profound and unreserved apologies”, whether intended to or not, become insulting when they resemble marginalia scribbled at the side of straw-clutching self-absolution.
The underlying allegation from Rafiq, one which the report does not uphold, is that Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist. To the unqualified reader, looking over allegations number six and seven in the list of those confirmed to be true, the summary makes a woeful fist of proving such:
“In August 2018, when Azeem Rafiq raised concerns of racism there was a failure by the Club to follow its own policy or investigate these allegations”, reads number six; “On a number of occasions prior to 2018 the Club could have done more to make Muslims more welcome within their stadiums and should have dealt better with complaints of racist or anti-social behaviour within those stadiums”, follows number eight.
The report itself cites the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report definition of institutional racism four pages later as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. This is a definition which seems to correspond rather closely with those two upheld, aforementioned allegations, and indeed many of the rest.
The closing stages of the report seem determined to mention the “positive” work done by Yorkshire CCC in the fields of equality and inclusivity. Having admitted to racial harassment and bullying on page one, full accountability again plays second fiddle to empty, exculpatory phraseology. Recommendations for a “review of the current policies” are depressingly vague.
So, the condemnation of Yorkshire CCC is justified, and it is welcome given the relatively unpublicised struggles of Azeem Rafiq and so many others down the years. Yet as I write these words, and others write their similar pieces, there has to be a moment of self-reflection. Latterly pointing fingers at this morally corrupt institution, indeed as I describe them as morally corrupt, am I doing anything, really? Or, rather, am I just affirming my own sense of self, attempting to convince others that I, indeed, am a “good” person, and ignoring the deeper problem?
Far be it from me to say how we should respond to these things, but in denouncing Yorkshire on Friday, in condemning the timing of this report summary, I wonder if all we are doing is taking a back seat, narcissistically solidifying and making sense of our own moralistic compass as I have done and continue to do in these paragraphs.
This morning was, albeit perhaps understandably, another missed opportunity to go a step further. For a Test match and the future of the game are vital topics, and the mental state of India’s players after a year spent in relentlessly bio-secure bubbles demands discussion, but it does not deserve any space for coverage above a man being driven to suicide over being discriminated against for his race.
I stress that this is not me suggesting a superior solution to the ones offered previously. It might not even be a solution at all. I, ultimately, know nothing about solving such an immense societal issue, and another white, male voice such as mine arguably contributes more to the problem than otherwise.
It just seems odd that the media’s collective psyche and that of the public, including my own, is immediately driven to say “not today” to a matter as ethical and human as Rafiq’s in favour of who won a hypothetical match between bat and ball. We then recriminate Yorkshire later on, as this article has, written almost nine hours after the County released their summary, after the controversy of something else, entirely transitory, has had its flames doused.
It is obviously not wrong to discuss matters of cricket, nor is it of course wrong to then condemn racist behaviour. But we must accept that we are part of the problem in many ways. It would be amiss of me and others to claim righteousness in now calling for the full report to be published, in criticisng its summary with such vehemence, when Azeem Rafiq has spent a year asking for such to happen and fighting his corner largely alone.
An opportunity presented itself on Friday morning to actually stand with him, to cover this contradictory and distressing report summary with the same intensity that the cancelled fifth Test match continues to see plastered over social media. Instead, we have said to Rafiq and the injustices he embodies, via our belated, hushed recriminations of Yorkshire CCC, “not today, of all days”. As we call for Yorkshire’s accountability, we ought to also assume some of our own. Because if not today, when?